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Economic priorities for education in Sri Lanka


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Policeman tear-gassing a university students’ protest march recently. As we have failed to achieve higher quality, affordability and accessibility to education within the context of ‘free education’, it’s truly an ‘achcharu in education’ like everything else in Sri Lanka – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

 

By Anura DeSilva

Today, we have one group of students fighting to save ‘free of charge education’ and another group of students fighting to save ‘free access to education’ while the politicians are making conflicting statements as the country has not had congruent policies for education and the economy. 

As we have failed to achieve higher quality, affordability and accessibility to education within the context of ‘free education’, it’s truly an ‘achcharu in education’ like everything else in Sri Lanka. 

Hence, what we should demand is for the Government to make it a priority to create the world’s best education system linked to economic and social development policies, so our Human Development Index could be raised to at least among the top 25 countries (currently HDI= 73) within the next decade. 

We have to accept the fact education has a cost whether we like it or not and every cost has an opportunity cost. To sacrifice all other economic needs and provide the best free education to all is obviously not a feasible economic option for Sri Lanka’s current economic conditions. As such, we have to face the cost impediment of education but agree not to compromise the higher quality of education as the higher quality is what will take us over the economic bridge. 

Therefore, we will need to accept the fact in the cost impediment to offer a higher standard in education and face the fact that every student will need to bear the cost of higher quality of education, which can be offered as grants or Government-assured loans to payback when earning an income. 

As education is an essential component of a highly literate society, Government will also need to ensure no child will be left behind when receiving the same higher quality of education, so a higher number of students would become productive citizens. 

As education like healthcare can have higher diminishing returns when its quality is diminished, it is important that the quality of education is maintained as the highest priority, followed by accessibility and then affordability that can be offered in so many ways before we can provide education free even to those who can afford to partially contribute.

The debate on access to education even when the private sector is offering without burdening the Government seems that we have not got our priorities intact. As more options and more access to education can induce the required competitiveness to continuously improve the quality of education, it is very important the Government promotes various means, possibilities and opportunities of education even if it means on-site/off-site/online private sector, private-Govt. or other means, so the geographical barriers to higher quality of education can be minimised expediently. 

As a result, those who could afford will pay for education proportionate to their income and those who cannot afford to pay will receive the same higher grade of education as a loan to be paid upon their employment or grants (scholarships), so no one will be left behind nor receive a third grade education that will lead to a third grade economy. 

Moreover, we will soon have less homeless people, less people in prisons, less underemployed, more civility on the roads, a more productive workforce for the economy and may even have higher quality leaders to lead our nation and compete even with quality of living in neighbouring Singapore.


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